One of the most hardest lessons I’ve tried to learn (I can’t claim to have learned it yet) is to ask for and receive help. Somewhere along the way, I decided that being a wife and mother means that I alone shoulder all the responsibilities that characterize the perfect wife and perfect mother. I must be that perfect wife and mother with no help from anyone… Mrs. Independently Perfect. And when I fail to meet those responsibilities, it must be my fault: I was lazy, I failed to plan well, I didn’t follow through, I was self-indulgent instead of disciplined…I just plain made poor choices.
Plenty of times, my failures to be even a decent wife or mother is, in fact, my fault.
But sometimes, I am actually unable to do it. Contrary to the popular saying, God does give us more than we can handle.
Sometimes, God does allow us to get into deep water when They know we can’t swim. (Today’s grammar lesson: I believe in a triune God, consisting of three persons in one Being, in whom are manifest both male and female attributes. Since we lack a neuter personal singular pronoun — “it” is for non-persons, I like to use our genderless plural pronouns for Them instead)
I know this because I’ve been there, floundering around, swallowing water, sinking lower and lower. This is hard for me to admit, especially publicly. I am a proud and independent woman. In the words of two-year-olds everywhere, “My do it!” Maybe I’m unusual, but when I need help, I feel like a failure. I can even wrongly interpret an offer of help as someone else insinuating that I am a failure. My reaction to this perceived (but untrue) insult, in turn, hurts the feelings of those who see that I am drowning and act to help. People like my husband.
God blessed me far beyond my wildest dreams by bringing Scott into my life. (Isn’t he the handsomest guy you’ve ever seen on a playground bench?) Scott actually washes dishes. He mops and vacuums floors. He even (you might want to sit down for this one) does laundry. He is the absolute best tidy-up-the-house-for-company person I’ve ever known. He isn’t perfect, don’t get me wrong, but he’s one of those rare quality guys who follows through on commitments and takes action when something needs to be done.
Yet I have actually been insulted and angry with my husband for daring to help me with things around the house. It hurts my pride. So I lash out.
I believe that God, in Their divine all-knowing-ness, sees both my prideful independence and the way that I, in my pride, hurt the people around me. And They won’t let me stay that way. That’s grace, isn’t it? Meeting us where we are but not leaving us the way They find us? Sometimes the transformation requires drastic action. Like letting me prance cockily into the deep end, knowing full well that I cannot swim there.
God is making me face the truth that, in fact, I’m Not All That. I can’t do it myself. I actually do need help. God didn’t create us to be self-sufficient. He created us to live together, to complement each other’s weaknesses with our strengths, and allow their strengths to complement our weaknesses.
(This was me juggling a babe-in-stroller, a wheelchair-bound non-potty-trained elementary-schooler, a barely-potty-trained toddler, and an easily-distracted preschooler. You can’t see the exhaustion in my eyes… but trust me. It’s there.)
In the midst of last year’s deep-end struggle, a friend strongly urged me to list specific ways people could help me and then be very up-front about sharing this. She saw that, on my list of priorities, “food,” “school,” and “sleep” came before “vacuuming,” “yard work,” and “laundry.” And at that time, I never got past the first three by the end of the day.
Some things that ended up helping me then included a person dedicated to getting Elli dressed, fed, and on the bus on school-day mornings (while I focused on getting Big Boy ready for his school bus and cared for the Little Boy who was an infant and Little Girl who was a toddler), another person dedicated to getting Elli off the bus and cared for each afternoon, a list of people willing to be on-call as emergency babysitters, a freezer-full of meals just needing to be thawed and heated, house-cleaning, lawn-mowing, and help with the laundry.
I still can’t say that I enjoy receiving help. But I’m getting better about identifying ways people can actually help. (Sometimes being specific is part of the problem.) I’m slowly realizing that I don’t have to be embarrassed or ashamed. Instead, I must be humble, gracious, honest, and thankful. In the same that way that someone’s help can and does bless me, my giving them the opportunity to help and my gracious receipt of that help can bless them.
I’ve also discovered that there is something worse than asking for help: being turned down. When I ask for help, I’m making myself vulnerable. When they can’t, it’s very tough to hear. And when they won’t or complain about it as they help, it shames and burns to the core of my being. It says to me that whatever it is that something else is more important to them than helping a friend in need.
So when someone asks you for help, please think about what it took to get them to actually say something. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it must be to prompt them to ask. Do everything in your power to help. If you can’t do the specific thing they ask, offer an option that you can do. If you absolutely must say no, be gentle and give a really good reason why. Whatever you do, don’t tell them that it’s inconvenient and do not complain. It’s never as difficult to give help as it is to receive it.